Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Memento Mori



I will always remember the first funeral I attended.  My favourite great-aunt had died in 1976 and we went to the funeral home to say our goodbyes. I looked in the coffin and I was aghast! This was not my dear aunt! She looked like a made-up movie character, or someone from Mme Tussaud's Wax Museum. Nothing like the warm, loving woman I knew It took many years to get that look out of her out of my mind and never did I ever look in the coffin of a loved one after that.

 In the mid 1800's with new developments (pun) in photography, it became popular to take photos of the deceased to honour and remember them. Especially children. Having a photo taken was not cheap, especially for poorer families, and often a death photo (or Memento Mori, latin for "remember that you will die") was the only photo they had or would have of their loved one. The photos were taken soon after death, and sometimes the deceased was propped up to look as if he was still alive.  Do you think one of your family photos may be a memento mori?

A custom that became popular in the mid-1800's was to make coffin plates.  These were made from metal and attached on the coffin, or propped in the casket.  The loved ones would take them before burial to keep as a memento.  There are some on ebay, and examples on various web sites. Do you have a coffin plate among your family treasures?

Another custom is hiring a professional sober, or mourner.  Popular in Asia, thiscustom spread to the UK and is still a thriving business today.  Another custom still practiced today is to make funeral cards, with a photo of the deceased, if there was one, and a prayer. Very popular in Quebec. There are Death Cards in the Drouin Collection at their website.  All peoples have their own customs surrounding death and funerals.  What are some of the customs of your ancestors?




Did you know that on the 1871 Canada Census there was the usual Nominal Return of the Living (the one most people check for their ancestors), but also a Nominal Return of Deaths that list people that died within the last 12 months.  They are not indexed but you will find them at the end of each sub-district record set. So, the one which has your living ancestors listed, go to the end of that set.


 
 
 
Relevant Links:



Death Photos – Flikr

Death photos – Strange and Unusual Blog

Death Photos – Buzzfeed Rewind

Professional Mourners

Mourners Wanted 

The House of Mourning : The Victoriana Magazine

eBay Vintage Death Cards








 
  
 

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